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Showing posts from 2019

Weekend Reads, or readathon-ing it...

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Busy weekends upon us, including this one. School open houses, playdates, and birthday parties. Spending time outside, enjoying New England fall when it's not an icy, rainy deluge.

But Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon is tomorrow, and as always, I've signed up in hopes of getting some good reading in. I've a string of books more than half read, and I'd love to finish them during the readathon.

I'm hoping I'll finish up Tarot for Troubled Times, which has given me so much to chew over and freshened up my tarot practice; as well as the absolutely emotionally gripping This Is How You Lose the Time War, which I'm both listening to and reading. It's deeply romantic and wonderfully fantastic, and the language is so good that after I hear the amazing audiobook readers do a chapter or two, I go back and read them to savor. And to my surprise, I'm going to be reading Emily Dickinson's Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Iconic Poet. I&#…

Chilling Effecty by Valerie Valdes

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Before she could shoot, a familiar voice boomed from the loudspeakers. "Attend me, worthless muck-eaters. I have come to your inferior outpost to apprehend the human captain Eva the Innocent!"

I erroneously described this as Firefly with a lesbian Mal; but I was only wrong about our main character's sexual identity (pansexual, maybe?). Otherwise, this marvelously fun comedic sci fi takes the best part of shows like Firefly, with a charming crew and a "curmudgeonly" "anti-hero" captain (who is both adorable and heroic), and injects welcome imagination into the ragtag-posse-take-on-enormous-challenges plot line.

Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes
Harper Voyager, 2019
Copy from publisher for blog tour

Captain Eva Innocente loves her ship, La Sirena Negra, and her work: running cargo and passengers around the universe. The book opens with Eva struggling to recapture her most recent order -- a passel of psychic cats -- and so, by page 3, I was literally enam…

The First Lady and the Rebel by Susan Higginbotham

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"But you were right, in one respect. Those bullets made us what we are."

Susan Higginbotham's newest novel takes the familiar Civil War story of brother-versus-brother and offers a fresh, sad version: sisters Mary and Emily Todd. Mary Todd would marry Abraham Lincoln while Emily would marry Hardin Helm, a devoted Confederate who would eventually become a General in the Confederate Army.

The First Lady and the Rebel by Susan Higginbotham
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2019
Source from publisher on behalf of blog tour
Reading Challenge: Historical Fiction

From a Kentucky slaveholding family, the Todd siblings were bound to be torn apart by the Civil War, but moreso when headstrong Mary sets her sights on the humble Abraham Lincoln and Emily on dashing Hardin Helm. Higginbotham shares both stories with a tender sympathy, even with both women behave in petty or cruel ways. Initially both families were friendly, with admiration between Abraham Lincoln and Hardin Helm, until war fo…

Interview with Susan Higginbotham

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I am so excited to share my interview with novelist Susan Higginbotham. Although she might be most well known for her novels set in the UK, she's started exploring 19th-century America in her more recent books, including her newest, The First Lady and the Rebel. It's the gripping story of Abraham Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and her beloved sister Emily, as they find themselves at the opposite ends of the Civil War. My review comes on Thursday but prepare for major squees. I loved this book!

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

Because I've been writing since I was a child, I can't remember, but I can tell you that it likely had something to do with cats. My first attempt at a historical novel, however, was when I was in junior high and started to write a novel about a family of orphans living through the Blitz. (Clearly, given the current vogue for World War II novels, I was way ahead of my time.) It didn't have much plot, as I recall,…

Farewell My Life by Cynthia Sally Haggard

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The war had been over for less than four years, and Berlin was full of amputees begging on the streets, of gaunt young men startling at the slightest thing.

This is a splashy, dramatic historical novel that reads like a mix of penny dreadfuls, 1980s Joan Collins romances, and any number of thrillers. Mixing a tumultuous, intriguing setting -- Europe in 1921 and 1922, then a jump to 1938 -- with a dysfunctional family saga, this book is like a froofy cocktail in a bubble bath: a little excessive but oh-so good.

Farewell My Life by Cynthia Sally Haggard
Self Published, 2019
Copy provided by author as part of blog tour
Read Harder 2019

What I so appreciated and enjoyed in this book was the mix of expected and surprising in the story. I've read many pre-war historical novels and any number of gifted-heroine-exposed-to-the-world coming-of-age stories, but Haggard picked unique details that made this story new. The heroine at the heart of this novel is Grace, an Italian-American woman w…

The Only Skill That Matters by Jonathan Levi

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But the truth is that while it's great to have enthusiasm for learning, enthusiasm without planning cna do more harm than good.

The subtitle of this book -- "The proven methodology to read faster, remember more, and become a superlearner" -- immediately attracted me. I usually only read one or two nonfiction books in a year but wish I read more, especially for personal and professional development. Never mind my perpetual yearning to learn another language or be more adept at some of my woo hobbies.

The Only Skill That Matters by Jonathan Levi
Lioncrest Publishing, 2019
Source via publisher, thanks to TLC Book Tours

I was unfamiliar with Levi and his SuperLearner empire, but found his book to be easy to engage with and understand. At the center of this book is a particular practice of priming one's self for learning and a particular way of studying; and honestly, I wish I had had this book when I was in college. I managed to do well in high school without learning ho…

National Geographic's Almanac 2020

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Breaking bread is the universal bonding mechanism of humanity. At a table, over food, one has no enemies.

National Geographic magazine is a sentimental staple in my life: I grew up on old issues given to me by neighbors and treasured the subscriptions I got for Christmas. I've given up my paper magazines in the name of conservation but am still drawn to that familiar yellow border and the images and knowledge within.

Almanac 2020 by National Geographic
National Geographic, 2019
Copy provided by publisher for TLC Book Tours

I hadn't had an opportunity to pour over any of NatGeo's annual almanacs until offered one for review, and it's an ultra dose of everything the magazine does well, broken up into small, easily consumed tidbits. It's perfect for trivia nerds and kids: most of the topics are covered in two pages or less, broken up with NatGeo's trademark stunning photography or infographics and timelines for context.

Between us, I'm not precisely sure what ma…

Cover Reveal: Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau

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I loooooooooooooooooooooooove Nancy Bilyeau's books (here's my review of her most recent, The Blue, which was fascinating!) and I'm so excited she has another book coming out in 2020.

Introducing...



Dreamland by Nancy Bilyeau Publication Date: January 16, 2020 Endeavor Quill
Genre: Historical Fiction



The year is 1911 when twenty-year-old heiress Peggy Batternberg is invited to spend the summer in America’s Playground.

But the invitation to Coney Island is unwelcome. Despite hailing from one of America’s richest families, Peggy would much rather spend the summer at the Moonrise Bookstore where she works voluntarily, than keeping up appearances with Brooklyn socialites and her snobbish, controlling family.

But soon it transpires that the hedonism of Coney Island affords Peggy more of the freedom she has been longing for. For one, she finds herself in love with a troubled pier-side artist of humble means, whom the Batternberg patriarchs would surely disapprove of.

Disapprove …

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

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Above them bright satellites transited in the darkening sky and the last hawks were returning to the rest of their nests and around them passersby did not pause to look at this old woman in her black robe or this old man with his stubble.

I was interested in the sci-fi element of this novel -- the magical doors -- and the political implications of it -- migration, borders, identity -- but what hooked me by the heart and left me in tears by the end was the beautiful, complicated, painful, oh-so-realistic relationship of Nadia and Saeed.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Penguin Random House Audio, 2017
Copy via the library

Hamid reads his own book in audio, and it was a delightful listen. The philosophical musings felt more organic and natural -- like being in Nadia's mind or Saeed's thoughts -- than when I read them, and the inevitability of Nadia and Saeed -- growing together, growing apart -- felt so much more poignant with someone telling me about them.

Nadia and Saeed meet in uni…

Interview with author Cynthia Ripley Miller

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I'm excited to share my interview with author Cynthia Ripley Miller; I've just started her newest book, The Quest for the Crown of Thorns, a historical novel that is giving me The DaVinci Code-meets-Outlander vibes. Set in 5th century Rome, it's a romantic thriller adventure with fascinating historical elements that have me hooked. If you're intrigued, check out the interview and enter the giveaway at the end of this post.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I prefer writing in the late morning continuing into the early evening. Depending on how much time I have, I'll take a break and step away from it for some fresh air, and then return a little later. When I walk, I listen to music. Often, the words or melody will trigger ideas that I may incorporate into my stories. I'll often write after the dinner hour as well.

Regarding rituals, in my office, I have pictures that represent how I imagine my settings and characters to look. I have talismans that ha…

Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger by Lee Israel

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I had never known anything but "up" in my career, had never received even one of those formatted no-thank-you slips that successful writers look back upon with triumphant jocularity. And I regarded with pity and disdain the short-sleeved wage slaves who worked in offices. I had no reason to believe life would get anything but better. I had no experience failing.

I'd grabbed this as a possibility for my Read Harder 2019 challenge 19, a book of nonviolent true crime. I ended up counting Bad Blood for it instead, but given the slender length of this book, decided to give it a try.

Le ugh.

What an unappealing person! I don't know what Lee Israel is like in real life -- she does admit she's hard to be around, especially during this period of her life -- but the story she details here wasn't funny or charming to me. I'm kind of judging the people who told her she had to recount these adventures.

Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger by Lee Israe…

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

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I can love you and want you and still not want that life. I'm allowed, all right, and it doesn't me me a liar; it makes me a man with some infinitesimal shred of self-preservation, unlike you, and you don't get to come here and call me a coward for it.

I believe I'm the only person on the planet who isn't in swoons over this book. About a quarter of the way through the book, I found myself irritated as I read, but I couldn't put my finger on what, precisely, was getting to me since it had all kinds of things that should have been insta-wins.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
St. Martin's Griffin, 2019
Copy via my public library

It's weird to say this about a novel that is practically just wish fulfillment but I think this book had too much artifice and exaggeration for me to take it seriously. Everything in this book was extreme: the emotions, the language, the pace, the characters. McQuiston took an element and streeeeeeeeeeeeetched to the …

I am Mrs. Jesse James by Pat Wahler

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I've spent so much time praying marriage would be an anchor for Jesse. Do you think he'll ever abandon his wandering life and stay home with you for good?

I won this book in a giveaway last fall and had been meaning to read it as soon as it arrived; and then my wife broke her ankle and we moved and I hadn't unpacked this book until a few weeks ago. It was a perfect read for both of my reading challenges this year -- Historical Fiction and Read Harder's challenge 9, "a book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads".

I will confess to some apprehension ahead of starting this book, though. In this current political climate, in which neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and domestic terrorists are getting mainstream platforming, I wasn't sure if we needed historical novels that offer empathetic views of people who were, and remained, problematic in their lifetimes. (I keep wondering if Melanie Benjamin's The Aviator'…

Supper Club by Lara Williams

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Those evenings, sitting on the living-room floor, laptops to our sides and an array of paper scattered across the floor, drinking wine and listening to music, were suffused with a warmth like nothing else I'd ever felt. I thought of it as the same feeling people get when planning their wedding. It felt enormous and essential and transitory: this papier-mâché beast that we were trying to carve into form.

Did I like this book? Or did I hate it? I'm going to split the difference and just say "yes".

Supper Club by Lara Williams
G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2019
Digital review copy via Edelweiss

To stave off loneliness in college, our narrator Roberta takes up cooking. But this isn't one of those sumptuous, charming foodie novels that has your mouth watering; instead, there was something a little gross, slightly dank, and funky about the food. (Williams has our narrator observe that our appetites tip close toward revulsion.) There was an extreme focus on body that reminded …

The Snakes by Sadie Jones

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On bad days he missed her. He would sit on the train, desperate to be home, staring at his reflection and the other ghostly doppelgängers of his fellow travellers; their possible selves, and he would think of all the things he wanted, that he might never find.

If you want something that is a total beach read -- family dysfunction, a marriage challenged, tragic death, decaying French hotel -- but with a slightly literary style, this is that book. It's compulsively terribly irresistible.

The Snakes by Sadie Jones
Harper, 2019
Digital review copy from publisher

Our main character Bea comes from wealth (the level of which we don't discover until later in the book) but strives to live without any help from her family, whom she disdains (save for her beloved, troubled brother Alex). Her husband Dan came from poverty; he wants to be an artist but doesn't feel like they can afford for him to do so. On a whim, he pleads with Bea to take their savings and travel to Italy so they can …

Quick thoughts on Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

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Lying is a disgusting habit, and it flows through the conversations here like it's our own currency. The cultural disease here is what we should be curing...

I've been fascinated first, and horrified later, by Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, and couldn't fathom this book detailing anything I hadn't already read. HA. Carreyrou shares the details behind his fantastic Wall Street Journal reporting, including the shocking lengths Theranos took to silence him.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
Knopf, 2018
Copy from public library
Read Harder challenge

Expanding on his exposé of Theranos, Carreyrou briefly details Elizabeth Holmes' background and her founding of Theranos. The sketchy details that mar the beginning of this endeavor are presented as they develop, and it makes this story even more astounding/horrifying. 

This book is very readable despite the science behind it (or science allegedly behind it, I suppose) although I was o…

Halfway through my reading year: a few thoughts

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I've had to increase my yearly reading goal three times already.

I'm just flabbergasted at that; pretty much since I was pregnant, so the last five years, trying to get in the reading I wanted has been a struggle.

Exhaustion when Unabridged Kid was a babe, and then the struggle to balance parenting and working. Slush-brain and mush-brain. Then, I don't know, disinterest. But unbelievably, this year, something switched.

Maybe it's just that the kid is a kid now, and I'm sleeping a little better; work is brisk and interesting and I've time to read and an interest in reading.

I've read 54 books so far, which I can't even believe.

I've done 16 of the 24 tasks for Read Harder 2019. (And, accidentally, accomplished 12 of the 26 Reading Women challenge).

I'm very, very behind on my historical fiction challenge, but I feel okay with that, because I feel like I can cram those reads in very easily. (I mean, along with romance, hist fic is my catnip.)

Unbe…

Wordless Wednesday, June 5

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Wordless Wednesday today is my working from home tableau. Yes, I use three lipsticks during the day so ensure anytime I'm on a web call, it looks like I have a mouth.

Weekend reads, or it's sunny, sunny, sunny!

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Hoping to finish this New Adult romance, Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. First Son Alex thinks he loathes British prince Henry but it turns out they maybe have the hots for each other. It's pretty cute and very escapist.

After something like 28 days of rain, we're finally promised a sunny weekend so I'll be doing yard work for infinity. (My front yard is such a jungle that a landscaper actually jackknifed in the road to give me their card so if that's not a sign from the universe, I don't know what is.)

What are you reading this weekend? Or, what else will you be doing?

Karen Russell's Orange World and Other Stories

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Her heart is breaking not to be with her daughter, just as Rae's is breaking not to be with her mother and her grandmother. The breaking is continuous - in the ouroboros of caretaking, guilt and love and fear and love continuously swallow one another.

Unbelievably, my first time reading Karen Russell. I see why she's so popular, though: dramatic, movie-like plots with narrative stylings reminiscent of Byatt, Waters, and Kingsolver.

Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell
Knopf, 2019
Digital arc by publisher/library copy

There are 8 stories in this volume. Only one I was truly meh about ("Black Corfu"); the rest were interesting to captivating. "The Prospectors" was like The Shining meets Carnivale -- it was creepy and moody and atmospheric, a historical horror that I could have easily inhaled as a full length novel. Two of Russell's stories take place in a world touched by extreme weather: "The Tornado Auction", in which tornadoes are …

Helen Hoang's The Bride Test

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What was he thinking about so intently? What was his story? Why didn't he smile for real?

This was my first Helen Hoang novel and you all: I. Am. Hooked. The Bride Test is such a delightfully cute, sweet, romantic read -- absolutely perfect for kicking off the summer reading season.

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
Berkley, 2019
Digital ARC from the publisher
Read Harder challenge

Hoang has been on my radar since her debut of  The Kiss Quotient: I'd been given a copy right at release and my book club ended up reading it (although I missed club that month and didn't get to read it!). My plan was to read it for this year's Read Harder challenge task 13 (a book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse) but I was granted an ARC of The Bride Test and the rest is history.

I honestly didn't know how Hoang would make this novel work. The hero, Khai, believes himself to be utterly incapable of feeling love toward anyone and has resigned himself to life without compa…

Melissa Broder's The Pisces

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...I was not about to learn to love myself here. It was as though they were each in competition with the other to see who could be grossest while simultaneously loving themselves the most. Is that what it meant to love yourself? To be repellent?

I've wanted to read this book since its release and it was just as delightful and as weird as I anticipated.

The Pisces by Melissa Broder
Hogarth Press, 2018
Copy from the library

It feels like the press about this book centers on the merperson sex and grossout earthiness which is not actually at the center of this read. (And there was far less gross body stuff than I feared; I was thinking it'd be Otessa Moshfegh level.)

I read this in about three hours so I was surprised with the depth Broder evoked: duality, absence, the stories we tell ourselves when the narrative thread of our lives is unclear, obsession, imagination.

Our heroine Lucy should be unlikable -- she doesn't do herself any favors -- but I found her endearing in he…

Sally Thorne's 99 Percent Mine

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You guys. You guys! Sally Thorne's The Hating Game was a favorite of 2017. I've already reread three, four times? I love it enough to say that I was wicked impatient for Thorne's next offering and to my utter dismay, it really, really didn't land with me.

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne
William Morrow Paperbacks, 2019
Copy via the library

Everything about this one just disappointed, from the characters to the plot. Our heroine's obstacle to her HEA? Her own twin brother (who we're actually supposed to like, I think).

Let me go back. Characters: super flat. Premise: kind of not there, and also, dreary. Sexual tension: really, nonexistent. I mean, we're told our hero and heroine are super into each other but since the characters are just these flimsy frames, whether they figure it out or not just didn't have emotional resonance for me.

And the whole Alpha Male thing with our hero -- who is otherwise a lovely human but turns into A Savage Animal for our he…

Susan Tan's Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire

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Me on the Inside: Art is dead.

Me on the Outside: [in a very small, quiet voice] Okay. She got a cookie, and then because she was very full and tired, she took a nap.

Can't wait for my niblings to be old enough to start longer books because this will be one of the first I'll shove into their hands.

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan
Roaring Brook Press, 2017
Copy from public library
Read Harder challenge

One of the Read Harder challenges this year is to read "A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009" -- not typically something I'd read so I'm grateful for being nudged outside my usual lanes.

Tan's novel is charming, amusing, sobering, and fun. Our heroine, Cilla, wants very much to be a bestselling author and she's living her best life to do so. But life conspires to challenge her -- there's a new sibling on the way, and her classmates and teacher don't quite have the imaginati…

Kris Waldherr's The Lost History of Dreams

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...he had the sense of viewing a man's life reduced to words. Black ink on white paper. Sentence after sentence. The grey minutia of daily routine flashed with occasional color...

This Gothic historical novel was a nearly perfect read: it held a snaky plot and thorny characters nestled in compelling narrative and deeply resonant themes. All love stories are ghost stories, we'll read more than once in this book, but this novel is more than a love story, more than a ghost story.

The Lost History of Dreams by Kris Waldherr
Touchstone, 2019
Review copy provided by publisher
Historical Fiction challenge

At the center of the novel is an imagining of the life of a Byron-like literary genius (and in those parts, I was reminded of Possession) touched with the unabashed, insistent naming of the woman behind such a figure. But surrounding that outward story is tortured emotions stretched taut to the point of madness (I was reminded of Sarah Waters and the way she writes about grief, ghosts…

Weekend reads, or I bet I'll be cleaning

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Two short reads on the docket for the weekend as I actually plan to do a great deal of cleaning. This coming week my brother, niblings, and mother will be visiting so needless to say, I'll be desperate to get things in order.

I don't know about you all, but the handful of truly gorgeous days have meant we've been outside and not spring cleaning, and whoo, does the house reflect that!

What are you reading this weekend?

Wordless Wednesday, April 10

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Rainy and chilly. Perfect for reading. My Wordless Wednesday features Kris Waldherr's new novel, The Lost History of Dreams. It's delicious. I can't wait to squee when I'm finished.

Alyssa Cole's A Prince on Paper

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Love was for brave fools and Johan was entirely too clever and too cowardly to succumb to it.

Take one international playboy and one wallflower determined to change the story people tell of her and you get this wickedly charming romance.

A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole
Avon, 2019
Digital ARC provided by publisher

This was my second Cole book, but the first contemporary romance of hers I've read. As with the first book of hers I read, An Extraordinary Union, I was immediately smitten.

This is technically the third book in her Reluctant Royals series so I was a tiiiiiiny bit lost at the start when the characters from the earlier books were crowding for reader reunion time. But enough backstory is provided that I wasn't lost when it came to Nya and Johan, and their super cute, super sexy romance won me over immediately.

I loved this modern take on the romancing royalty trope -- I haven't read any modern royal romances, actually so I didn't know what to expect -- and now C…

Caitlin Starling's The Luminous Dead

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Words flashed up on her cracked screen.

DON'T SPEAK

Gyre choked down the faint, nascent sound that threatened to leak from her throat.

The words on her screen disappeared, and were replaced with:

IT HEARD THE SINGING. IT DOESN'T LIKE HUMAN VOICES


I won this book via GoodReads' First Reads and I really had no idea what it was about; but I loved the title and the cover so dove right in. What I landed in was a creepy, claustrophobic thriller pitting/partnering two damaged people in a place determined to kill them.

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling
Harper Voyager, 2019
Review copy from publisher

Starling doesn't waste time plunging us (literally) into her world, an alien place where mining dominates but some kind of alien known as Tunnelers make it dangerous. Cavers identify lodes -- if they survive the Tunnelers -- and a good caver can make lucrative money surviving one or two expeditions. Surviving being the operative word.

Gyre is desperate to leave her home planet…

Sangu Mandanna's A Spark of White Fire

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"Your arrow was a spark," she replies," A spark of fire so hot and white that no one will be able to put it out. And even a spark of fire can consume an entire forest if it can jump from tree to tree. Watch, Esmae. Watch as one act leads to another and then to another after that. Watch the trees pass white flames on. Watch the forest burn."

OH.MY.GOD.  This book. This book!!!

My local library had a display of fairy tales and myths retold and I snagged this one solely because it was based on the Mahābhārata (a myth I'm totally unfamiliar with). Mandanna sets her retelling in space, merging the high drama of gods and royalty and intrigue with the sparkle, danger, and excitement of interstellar conflict.

I loved every page. (This will be a top read of 2019 for sure.)

A Spark of White Fire by Sangu Mandanna
Sky Pony, 2018
Copy from library
Read Harder challenge

One of Book Riot's Read Harder 2019 challenges is to read a book of mythology or folklore, and I was e…